4 min read

Rocket Talk: Nesting Responses to The Traitor Baru Cormorant

Following my previous post on the subject, the latest episode of Tor.com’s Rocket Talk podcast features Kameron Hurley and me talking with Justin Landon about The Traitor Baru Cormorant and the discussion surrounding its representation of queerness. Says Justin:

Recently released from Tor, Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant has spawned a multitude of reactions across the genre community. Amal El-Mohtar and Kameron Hurley join Justin on Rocket Talk to discuss how this response reflects a larger conversation: how has social media and online book discussion impacted how we engage one another in dialogue about the things we love? It’s an honest and riveting conversation that doesn’t shy from controversial subjects.

I had a fantastic time talking with them. Also, since the episode went live, Heather Rose Jones listened to it and weighed in with a fantastic series of tweets fleshing out the history and types of Queer Tragedy in ways I was totally unfamiliar with. I highly recommend reading what she has to say, and am super grateful to her for sharing her knowledge on the subject.

I’m also glad, though, to be able to stand by my statement that The Traitor Baru Cormorant isn’t a Queer Tragedy Story even in the light of Jones’ expanded definition. But that said, Jones makes more excellent points: that we’re talking A LOT about this book, and that ironically even discussions about “who is allowed” to write queer stories can end up obscuring stories written by queer people, especially women.

That said — and this is not in contradiction of Jones, but in addition to her points — I think it’s also worthwhile to interrogate our assumptions about thinking of authors as being Straight Until Proven Otherwise. For reasons of Bisexual Erasure, for reasons of recognizing that people can be questioning, undecided, asexual, genderqueer, closeted, for reasons of just troubling heteronormativity in general. I know it’s hard to square this with a need to genuinely diversify our personal reading and our publishing environments — but I keep coming back to this brilliant article by Sofia Samatar (that I’ve not pointed to here before, that I need to discuss in more depth in its own right, blargh) that touches on how “the invisibility of a person is also the visibility of race”:

I’m interested in visibility as it relates to the lives and working conditions of academics of color, at a time when visibility has come to dominate discussions of race in U.S. universities to such an extent that it has made other frameworks for approaching difference virtually impossible. We speak of diversity, of representation. Diversity, unlike the work of anti-racism, can be represented visually through statistics. How many of X do you have? What percent? There is an obsession with seeing bodies that raises the ghosts of racial memory.

And further

Academics of color experience an enervating visibility, but it’s not simply that we’re part of a very small minority. We are also a desired minority, at least for appearance’s sake. University life demands that academics of color commodify themselves as symbols of diversity—in fact, as diversity itself, since diversity, in this context, is located entirely in the realm of the symbolic.

(Emphases mine.)

I flag these things up not to say that race and sexual orientation are equivalent and interchangeable categories (they’re absolutely not), nor that it isn’t hugely important to have stories about and by queer people published and publicised fully as much as stories about queer people written by non-queer people. I just want to draw attention to the fact that the most lauded way of getting to that point — discussing, celebrating, raising up the voices of queer people writing stories about queer people — has knock-on effects that ought to be kept in view while we work towards those goals. Those knock-on effects can and do include: limiting the stories queer people can tell; commodifying their experience; and placing pressure on queer authors to be visibly so.

I don’t even have answers to any of this, except to keep the conversation going, and to get the conversation to broaden, deepen, to be enriched with more people’s recommendations and perspectives.

To that end, I would really love if you could recommend, in comments (please in comments, not on Twitter, I’d love to just have them in one handily accessible place), books you’ve read and loved featuring queer protagonists written by queer people — especially if they’re books that are coming out soon.

Here are some of my own recs off the top of my head (a mix of novels, short story collections, and poetry collections that have fiction in them) and in no particular order, with links to reviews I’ve written of them, featuring queer protagonists written by queer people:

Hild by Nicola Griffith
Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Swordspoint and Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak
The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
by Malinda Lo
Scruffians! by Hal Duncan
The Ant King and Other Stories by Benjamin Rosenbaum
The Orphan’s Tales duology by Catherynne Valente
Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
The Haunted Girl by Lisa Bradley
Ghost Signs by Sonya Taaffe

Here are some anthologies edited by at least one queer person and also featuring queer authors and characters in varying mixes (full disclosure: I have contributed to all of these, but have also read the full books and recommend them wholeheartedly):

Here, We Crossed Rose Lemberg
Kaleidoscope: Diverse Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, eds Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein
Glitter and Mayhem, eds Lynne Thomas, Michael D Thomas, and John Klima
Queers Destroy Science Fictioned Seanan McGuire

And here are some books I love featuring queer protagonists written by people whose sexual orientation I don’t know:

Touch by Claire North
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
My Real Children by Jo Walton
Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

and, of course — The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson.

Your own recs! I would love them please! Especially if I can put them on my lists to review! Feel free also to recommend your own works.